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Amanda's story: From homeless to hopeful

Amanda Garretson and her daughter, Arya
John Farmer de la Torre
Amanda Garretson and her daughter, Arya

In this segment of KSMU's Sense of Community Series, hear the story of one woman living in transitional housing who continues her search for a permanent residence.

Those who work with the homeless community in Springfield are finding it more and more difficult to find affordable housing for their clients.

"Even if we're able to provide assistance, we have to make sure that the client we're serving can be able to afford that rent once the assistance ends," said Maura Taylor, the executive director of Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri, or CCSM.

According to the rental search engine, Rentable, the average rent price for a two-bedroom apartment in Springfield in March of 2021 was $858 a month. By February of this year, that had jumped to $978.

Amanda Garretson lives in transitional housing run by CCSM. The property was once the Rancho Motel on Kearney Street. She is not having any success finding someone who will rent to her and her baby. The 37-year-old had been living in her car until February when, after multiple attempts to get help, CPO's One Door program put her in touch with those who run the Rancho Temporary Emergency Shelter.

Garretson’s daughter, Arya, was born in December. The two bounced from motel to motel while Garretson constantly worried how she would keep a roof over their heads.

"There was a night that I had to sleep on a back patio in the freezing cold with her. I didn't have a shirt on, and I was keeping her warm, and I had a blanket over her," she said. "And I didn't sleep at all. I just, like, was keeping her warm, and I couldn't find help."

She struggled to make money, working for a grocery delivery service when she could afford gas.

While she was able to stay in motels occasionally, the cost wasn't feasible for her. The cost at one place she stayed, Welcome Inn in Springfield, is $246 a week. The cost is less if a person can afford to pay by the month—which many can't. It's $739 at Welcome Inn, and the daily rate of $54.09 amounts to nearly $1,700 a month, pre-tax.

Garretson‘s spiral into addiction and homelessness began in 2015 when her friend, Bill Williams, shot himself after a long standoff with police in Springfield. When police entered the apartment, they found Williams’ children, two-year-old Marley and four-year-old Brodie dead. They were Garretson’s god children.

"I trusted him. I thought that I knew him. My daughter would stay with him when I went to class," she said. "And my daughter even called him 'Daddy Bill.' I mean, it's not like he was a random person. I knew this person, or so I thought. So that completely shattered everything that I knew about the world."

The dean at the college where Garretson was taking classes at the time suggested she take time off. She became more depressed and attempted to take her own life. That’s when she said her family took custody of her daughter. Garretson hasn’t seen her for two years.

She was living in her car, a shell of the person she once was. She was constantly in survival mode, not knowing what she was going to eat or where she was going to park her car.

But now that she’s at the Rancho transitional housing facility, she can see a way out.

Rancho Temporary Emergency Shelter
Michele Skalicky
Rancho Temporary Emergency Shelter

Two case managers help her with things like food stamps and Medicaid and finding housing.

Those who stay at Rancho have 90 days to work with case managers and try to find permanent housing. Garretson said if they can see that residents are trying hard but are still struggling to find someone willing to rent to them, they won’t make them leave.

It’s difficult enough for those who are homeless to find a landlord willing to take a chance on them, but in a tight housing market, especially for those who aren’t in transitional housing, it’s nearly impossible.

"You don't have an I.D., you don't have a birth certificate, you don't have a social security card. You don't have any of these documents that you have to have. Chances are, your credit's destroyed. A lot of us are felons. A lot of us, like, we just don't have the credit history. We don't have the background. We...have to find somebody who's willing to take a chance on us."

Her case manager for housing has given her lists of places to call, and even though Garretson has been trying, she hasn’t had any luck.

Amanda Garretson and her daughter, Arya, at the Rancho Temporary Emergency Shelter
Michele Skalicky
Amanda Garretson and her daughter, Arya, at the Rancho Temporary Emergency Shelter

She says she's not working right now because she doesn’t trust anyone to care for her daughter after what happened to her godchildren. She hopes to get a job working remotely after she gets into a place of her own, but without a job right now, it’s going to be even harder to find someone who will rent to her.

"I'm not the ideal choice. I'm not the one that somebody would go, 'Oh yeah, that's the one I want in my house,' you know? So, I just have to find somebody who will understand my situation and be willing to roll the dice on me," she said.

For now, though, she’s grateful to have her own space, with a bed, a microwave and a bathroom.

"I made a list of all the simple things that I didn't have when I was homeless that I have now that I'm so thankful for," she said, "like, for example, being able to get up in the middle of the night and just go to the bathroom."

"I remember there was one time last summer that, and keep in mind that I was pregnant at this time, and I was so thirsty, like, I literally felt like I couldn't even swallow because my throat was so dry, my mouth was so dry I felt like I couldn't even swallow, and I couldn't find somebody who would just give me a glass of water," she said.

There are many people in Springfield who are homeless, and Garretson said most of the unsheltered people she knows don’t want to live on the streets.

Michelle Garand, vice-president of Affordable Housing and Homeless Prevention at Community Partnership of the Ozarks, says homelessness is solvable, but a major part of the solution is an adequate supply of affordable housing—which Springfield doesn’t have right now.